Building Collapse in Brooklyn Sends Rubble Flying, People Running in Smoke-Filled Streets

The top three floors of a four-story building in Brooklyn collapsed Tuesday afternoon, and now investigators have confirmed that there was no valid work permit at the site.

As crews continued to dismantle the building Wednesday, investigators confirmed that contractors had applied for a demolition permit in December but that no permit was ever issued.

Surveillance video obtained exclusively by NBC 4 New York shows the building shift at first as pieces of debris fall to the sidewalk, startling pedestrians below. Then about 20 seconds later, an avalanche of bricks and and cement cascade down, sending huge clouds of debris onto the street.

"I heard something crack, crack, crack, looked up, and the whole building was collapsing like cards," Gerald Haskins, who lives in the neighborhood, said. "One to the next, floors just dropping down like pancakes."

Three people were hurt in the collapse, including a passerby riding a bicycle down the street as the Fulton Street structure pancaked around 2:30 p.m., officials say. The FDNY says two other people in the area were also hurt. 

"I saw a guy just getting pummeled by debris," Justin Warren said of the bicyclist. Warren helped get the wounded bike rider to the hospital and called his family.

The victims had minor injuries, according to FDNY Deputy Assistant Fire Chief Wayne Cartwright on the scene. They were all taken to area hospitals. 

The building was unoccupied and being prepared for demolition, said Cartwright. 

There was no gas in the building, and Cartwright said there was no report of any explosion, despite witnesses' accounts to NBC 4 New York of hearing a loud "boom." 

A local church chaplain, George Fort, said he was on a street corner when he heard "something went off with a boom, very loud," and saw rubble "flying all over." 

"I thought it was an explosion from inside," he said.

Rahem Floyd was inside a nearby bodega when he heard what at first sounded like a car crash. 

"We came out, there was a whole bunch of smoke coming down the block, there was people running down the block," he said. "I don't even know how it's fallen. I see thing building every day, nothing happens, nothing's wrong with it until today." 

The whole building collapsed in a matter of two to three minutes, a barber in the area, James Halsey, said.

"The top part came down, and the rest of it collapsed," he said. "People were running, people were coming out of the building next door." 

"I was really scared," shop owner Gail Bishop said. "I was shaking because the noise was so big. Everybody was shaking."

Building engineers will assess the structural integrity of the building before firefighters conduct a secondary search in the rubble this week, Cartwright said. The building next door is being evaluated as well. 

Building officials said there were no open complaints or open environmental violations at the site prior to Tuesday. Records show multiple agencies had responded to the building for a report of shaking and vibrating in August 2011 related to a partial facade collapse. 

The MTA said several subway lines, including the A and C, were affected by the collapse. All service had resumed with delays within about two hours. 

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